The Chinese government’s National Sword campaign has targeted the plastic scrap sector throughout the first half of 2017, causing a severe slowdown in importing and processing activity in that nation. Attendees of the Plastics Committee meeting at the 2017 Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) World Recycling Convention, held in late May in Hong Kong, heard updates on the situation and market reports from other parts of the world.

Steve Wong of Hong Kong-based Fukutomi Co. Ltd., who also serves as president of the China Scrap Plastics Association, said the media in China in recent years has “given a very negative image of our industry.” As a result, he said China’s central government now is “not looking at plastic scrap as a resource.”

Surendra Borad of Belgium-based Gemini Corp. NV said China’s new barrier is unlikely to lead to increased plastic scrap traffic to India.

Several government agencies, led by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), have been working jointly as part of National Sword to inspect all inbound containers of plastic at all ports into China. Wong said inspectors at all ports are “not so flexible” as they used to be. As of May 2017, this has caused a backup of up to 8,000 containers in Hong Kong and demurrage charges that are making transactions highly unprofitable.

BIR Plastics Committee Chairman Surendra Borad of Belgium-based Gemini Corp. NV said China’s new barrier is unlikely to lead to increased plastic scrap traffic to India. He said China had been importing from 7 million to 9 million metric tons per year of plastic scrap. Comparatively, Borad said, “India is not prepared” to fill that gap, as it imports just 320,000 metric tons per year currently.

*Producer price index is based on December 1980 average prices as 100; source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Renaud Pfund of Paris-based Veolia Proprete France Recycling said companies in Europe likely will make the “decision to build new washing plants” to upgrade their LDPE (low-density polyethylene) scrap in response to China’s National Sword campaign.

Mahmoud al Sharif of United Arab Emirates-based Sharif Metals indicated the Middle East region faces the same circumstance. While the region is still building its collection infrastructure, much of the plastic scrap it collects heads to China, he said. “Now, with the 100 percent inspection of containers [in China], it will be difficult unless it is processed in a certain way.”

“The new regulation in China could bring additional difficulties to sell all [plastic scrap] available.” – Renaud Pfund of Veolia Proprete France Recycling